The third bird was a charm.
The Eagles managed to do what their feathered NFC friends the Falcons and Seahawks could not — finish off the Patriots in yet another high-flying Super Bowl. And now we are officially on to the NFL offseason (which has started with a bang thanks to Josh McDaniels).
The Seahawks, of course, have been finished for a month — enough time for Pete Carroll to perform a major shakeup of his staff (eight coaches gone, five arrived). Now it is John Schneider’s turn.
Over the next three months, the GM will be charged with making the roster moves that will open Seattle’s next Super Bowl window. The Seahawks’ salary cap is a fairly blank slate starting in 2019, so this offseason will set the table for the next few years. That will include resetting the secondary, fortifying both lines, filling out the skill positions and extending key veterans.
Here’s a 12-step plan for Schneider: (1) Extend Earl Thomas, (2) find Kam Chancellor’s replacement, (3) say goodbye to Jeremy Lane and Cliff Avril, (4) decide on Sheldon Richardson, (5) tender Dion Jordan and Justin Coleman, (6) cheap-keep DeShawn Shead or Byron Maxwell, (7) find a veteran starting guard, (8) remake the tight end spot, (9) add a running back or two, (10) re-sign Austin Davis, (11) nail the draft, (12) extend other veterans.
Extend Earl Thomas: Schneider typically waits until summer to do extensions, but he should change course this year and get Thomas done this month — both to placate the star and create cap space.
Thomas has said he won’t report without a new deal, but Schneider reportedly is willing to pay him the market-setting $14 million per year. He should do it now. Schneider could just tear up Thomas’ remaining $8.5 million and give him a new four-year deal. Schneider could save as much as $4.5 million in 2018 cap space with that move.
Some are advocating that Schneider trade Thomas, who has talked about playing in Dallas. But would Seattle want to replace both him and Chancellor in the same offseason?
Find Chancellor’s replacement: The injured safety’s $6.8 million salary becomes fully guaranteed Friday, but it was guaranteed for injury already. His neck issue is expected to end his career — whether he retires this year or not. Schneider’s concern is not the guaranteed money (the cap hit is only $2.3 million more than if the safety were to retire), it’s replacing Chancellor.
The obvious choice is Bradley McDougald, but he probably will test free agency again. He played for a bargain $1.8 million in 2017, and most think he could get between $4 million and $6 million this year (with Cleveland reportedly interested again). It’s possible he re-signs before free agency, if Schneider is willing to pay in that range.
The Hawks also have Delano Hill back for his second year. If McDougald is not re-signed, Hill should get first crack at strong safety and Schneider should replace McDougald with another versatile safety, via free agency or the draft.
Cut Lane and Avril: Plenty of people are uptight about Seattle’s cap situation, but Schneider can create all of the room he needs. The Hawks are around $14 million under the cap, but releasing Lane and Avril would add about $12 million. Extensions for Thomas and Duane Brown could add up to $10 million. And Seattle could net around $2 million each from releasing Jon Ryan and Neiko Thorpe — if Schneider felt it necessary.
For now, figure the Hawks will have $26 million to start, with $20 million available for veterans (the rest has to be reserved for rookie bonuses, practice squad, injuries, etc.).
Decide on Sheldon Richardson: The franchise tag window is Feb. 20-March 6, and it’s probably the only way Schneider can keep Richardson in Seattle. But the GM seems unlikely to be interested in committing the projected $14.5 million to the defensive lineman — especially when his market might not be any higher than $12 million (the Jets and Raiders reportedly are interested).
With Richardson and Avril likely headed off the roster, Michael Bennett seems a sure thing to return — even though some (including him) think he might be gone. The Hawks would save just $2 million by releasing Bennett, who played so well on a torn plantar fascia that he was a Pro Bowl alternate. Schneider should keep the 32-year-old for another year as Seattle grooms a replacement.
Assuming Schneider does not want to tag Richardson and the 3-technique doesn’t want to sign a reasonable new deal (e.g., $8 million a year) with Seattle, Schneider will need to find a new interior pass rusher. One option: Bring back Clinton McDonald from Tampa Bay. McDonald, 31, is still playing well; he recorded five sacks in 2017. Schneider should be able to get him for $3 million a year.
Regardless of the veteran moves, Schneider must add a pass rusher in the draft.
Tender Dion Jordan and Justin Coleman: These are the only RFAs worth tenders (Mike Davis, Thomas Rawls and Dewey McDonald are not).
Jordan should get the low tender of around $1.9 million — Carroll is eager to see whether the 27-year-old can build on his comeback and become a future fixture. Coleman was great as the nickel corner and should be an easy call to return on a second-round tender ($2.9 million).
That would keep the Seahawks in good shape at corner. Richard Sherman, coming off a torn Achilles, is expected to be ready by July, and he will pair up again with strong 2017 rookie Shaquill Griffin. Seattle also has DeAndre Elliott returning from IR and special-teams standout Neiko Thorpe (assuming he is not cut for cap reasons).
Cheap-keep Shead or Maxwell: Schneider lost his bet that Shead would return in time to be a factor in 2017, so the Hawks paid him $1.2 million to rehab. He played in a mere two games on special teams, so he might not have much of a market.
Maxwell is a two-time flameout, so he might not see many offers either. Word is he and the Seahawks would like to keep their renewed relationship going.
With Sherman entering the final year of his deal, Schneider should look to lock up either Shead or Maxwell for a couple of years — maybe $2 million this year, with a play-time bump to $6 million in 2019. That would buy Seattle time to draft and develop another young corner.
Find a veteran starting guard: Schneider has drafted plenty of offensive linemen over the past two years (three in the first three rounds), and he also acquired Brown. That leaves him with two missions for that unit this offseason: (1) Find a veteran starting guard and (2) extend Brown.
Schneider overpaid Luke Joeckel at $8 million in 2017, but some are lobbying for the GM to pay even more this offseason for a premier free agent such as Carolina’s Andrew Norwell or New York’s Justin Pugh.
Some of Schneider’s approach surely will hinge on new line coach Mike Solari’s opinion of the current personnel, which includes a potentially strong core (if coached right) in Brown, Justin Britt, Ethan Pocic and Germain Ifedi.
Schneider tried to go big for T.J. Lang last year, so it’s not out of the question that he tries to sign a major free agent again. He’ll need to be ready to pony up over $10 million a year though.
Depending on Solari’s evaluations, Schneider could try to bring back Joeckel for much less or else go with an even cheaper option. Whatever he does in free agency, he definitely needs to try to add a lineman in the draft (as he should every year).
Schneider also should extend his new left tackle. Brown, 32, figures to command $11 million to $12 million. Schneider could guarantee him $20 million on a new four-year deal, while dropping his 2018 cap count by as much as $5 million (if needed).
Brown is a proven commodity and should help steady the youthful offensive line under Solari, so he is worth the investment. Plus, offensive linemen can play into their late 30s, so it would not be a big gamble.
Remake the tight end spot: Schneider figures to help Solari’s offensive line with better two-way tight ends, too.
The Seahawks totally whiffed on how they used Jimmy Graham, and he reportedly is itching to hit free agency — where some team figures to pay him more than Schneider would care to.
New OC Brian Schottenheimer loves to use two tight ends, though, so Schneider needs to stock up at this position.
There is some chatter for the Hawks to see about adding injury-prone Cincinnati tight end Tyler Eifert on a cheap deal. But the Hawks have been down Injury Gamble Way far too often and need to steer clear of guys like that.
A better option, if possible, would be to try for Tampa Bay’s Cameron Brate — if the Bucs decide not to tender the RFA or use the low tender. Luke Willson also seems likely to return on another one-year deal, although Schneider could move on from him — via a free agent or rookie.
Schneider almost drafted a tight end in last year’s great class — and probably should have. Analysts are mixed on whether this draft class is any good, but Schneider should keep his eyes out.
Add a running back or two: The Seahawks have gone through 14 the past two years and really need to find a dependable guy.
The only backs under contract for 2018 are Chris Carson and C.J. Prosise, who both spent much of 2017 on IR. Changeup artist J.D. McKissic is an ERFA and likely will be back as insurance for the injury-prone Prosise, who might not even make it to training camp.
There’s no reason to pay Davis anything beyond the minimum. Eddie Lacy certainly won’t be back, and flash-in-the-pan Rawls is unlikely to return as well.
Like 2016, the draft is loaded with running backs. So expect Schneider to add one to a group that likely will start out as Carson, Davis, Prosise, McKissic and maybe a cheap veteran.
Re-sign Austin Davis: This is a bigger deal than it might have been because Davis played for Schottenheimer and can help Russell Wilson learn the terminology. Davis won’t cost more than the vet minimum again.
Nail the draft: Schneider should be very active once again, moving down from No. 18 to secure picks in the second and third rounds to make up for the picks he gave up for Richardson and Brown.
Schneider currently has picks in these rounds: 1, 4, 5, 5, 5, 7, 7. But he probably will end up with something more like 2, 3, 4, 5, 5, 7, 7 — barring a blockbuster trade of Thomas or a tag-and-trade of Richardson.
Schneider’s top targets in the draft need to be pass rusher and offensive line, with running back and tight end also high on the wish list.
Extend other veterans: Frank Clark figures to merit $10 million a year, which would put him above Bennett as the No. 6-paid 4-3 end and 14th among all pass rushers. It’s the perfect slot, since his 19 sacks over the past two years rank 14th in the league.
An extension for Clark would add maybe $2 million in bonus proration to the 2018 cap — not a problem. With Avril likely retiring and Bennett probably in his final year in Seattle, Schneider has to keep Clark (and find Bennett’s successor).
K.J. Wright, 28, should have a solid four years left — he plays with length and savvy rather than speed. He should get $8 million a year — a bump from his $6.75 million APY — in a three-year extension.
Tyler Lockett might have been in line for an extension, too, if he had not had to rally from a broken leg in 2017. The team still could try to keep him for cheap, especially with Paul Richardson likely to leave in free agency, but Lockett would be wise to play out his contract in 2018 and see how much his value grows.